ABUJA, Nigeria — A student was beaten and burnt to death Thursday by fellow students in northwestern Nigeria after she was accused of making a blasphemous social media post, witnesses and police said.
Deborah Samuel was killed in the Shehu Shagari College of Education in Sokoto state after being accused of “making a social media post that blasphemed … Prophet Muhammad,” according to a police statement. Two students have been arrested in connection with the incident.
Authorities also closed the school indefinitely, in a bid to calm frayed nerves in that part of Nigeria where residents have in the past violently reacted to actions or comments deemed anti-Islamic.
Samuel’s killing caused outrage and shock among many Nigerians on social media.
The incident highlights the deep religious tension in Africa’s most populous country that’s almost evenly divided between Christians in the south and Muslims in the north. An atheist was in April sentenced to 24 years in prison over a social media post a court in the northern Kano state found to be blasphemous against Islam.
Witnesses said Samuel, a second-year college student whose age was not made public, was immediately attacked by her fellow students after she criticized a religion-related post on the students’ WhatsApp group.
“She was angry the way Muslims were talking about Islamic affairs in that WhatsApp group, which made her to make some un-Islamic utterances against Prophet Mohammed,” said Basharu Guyawa Isa, a resident and human rights activist in Sokoto.
The school authority quickly deployed security personnel to protect Samuel but they were overpowered by angry youths.
“Students forcefully removed the victim from the security room where she was hidden by the school authorities, killed her and burnt the building,” said Sokoto police spokesperson Sanusi Abubakar.
A video of the incident posted on social media and verified by The Associated Press showed Samuel lying on the ground as she was stoned and beaten with planks. The young men surrounding her then dumped tires on her, and set them ablaze.
Abubakar said two students have been arrested in connection with the incident while an investigation directed by Sokoto Governor Aminu Tambuwal is underway.
“The suspects in the viral video on Twitter were spotted and will be (identified) soon,” he said.